This was written as part of the rough draft for Deploy Empathy, a practical guide to interviewing customers.
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I had a bootstrapper friend say something to me the other day after reading one of these issues:
“I honestly hadn’t really thought about doing customer interviews post launch… especially in bootstrap-world, all the writing is on customer development prior to launch (or product market fit).”
And I found this fascinating, and realized that they were right: in the bootstrapped world, you often hear people talk about the importance of talking to customers prior to building, prior to launching, while getting post-launch feedback… but not as much for companies that are already chugging along.
And I found myself struck by this insight.
Surely people are getting feedback from their customers all the time. Suggestions. Bugs. Issues.
Yet you’re missing out on so much if you aren’t taking the time to sit down and ask people – new and existing customers alike – why it is they need what you do in the first place.
That’s my view, at least.
Customer feedback is how we figure out what to work on. What to fix, what to tweak, what to add, what to think about overhauling entirely… it is the lifeblood of our company.
Let me explain how we use it before getting to today’s script.
Two types of research
I tend to think of customer research in two distinct categories: project-based and ongoing research.
Project based: this is when we have a specific question and devote a defined period of time to understanding it and iterating on solutions. For example, “Why aren’t more people doing [action] on this page?” or “How could we reduce the number of tickets we receive about when people will be charged?”
Usually a project-based effort will involve a combination of quantitative and qualitative research. For example, that might mean diving into our analytics and setting up interviews or screeenshares
with 5-10 customers over the course of two weeks, and brainstorming some solutions, going back to those same customers and asking them for further feedback, and so forth. The entire process might take 1-2 months. Project-based research has a narrowly defined question, a defined goal, and a defined timeline.
(This is only how we do it now as a two-person team. The process was quite different and longer when I was in a larger company. It will vary from company to company and situation to situation.)
Ongoing research: If project-based research is a remodel, ongoing research is rearranging the furniture and organizing the shelves. It’s research that we do every day as part of adding to our ever-expanding and changing understanding of customer needs.
For us, there are two primary ways we do ongoing research: NPS surveys with a follow-up question, and interviews with new customers.
NPS surveys with a follow-up question. We don’t really do NPS for the actual NPS, but rather as a pulse-check to make sure people are generally happy.
We basically just want to make sure we’re getting mostly 9s and 10s and check in with anyone who gives us below a 7, as that may indicate something went wrong.
We recently changed the follow-up question from “What could we do to improve?” to “What did you use before you started using Geocodio?” and as a result have become much more actionable for us. We’re now getting deeper information about why people switched and what their underlying use cases are.
New customers. We trigger an email five days after people make a purchase for the first time. The goal is to learn why they switched and why they need a service like ours in the first place.
Happy customers. This is the one that seems to surprise other people the most – intentionally interviewing happy customers.
Twice a year, I sit down and do what I call a Customer Portfolio Analysis, which I think might be a unique form of customer segmentation for a B2B SaaS. I download all of our revenue data by customer, take the top 90% of our revenue, and then analyze that basket like an investor would a portfolio. I primarily look at it by industry and company size, and layer in things like revenue volatility from that customer type.
This is our primary way of goal setting. Our top line goal is revenue stability rather than growth, though growth usually still happens unintentionally (56% last year). Managing for stability rather than growth has meant we don’t have a lot of places to look to for examples and have had to come up with our own tools and ways of thinking about data.
For example, a few years ago we realized 20% of revenue was coming from real estate, and that felt high to us to have so much coming from one industry. So, we set a goal of increasing customers in financial services and healthcare. We picked those industries because, for our business, had so far been quite sticky if lower-volume. But to do that, we needed to figure out why people in those industries were choosing us, so we could find more people like them. This involved uncovering the value of features in their contexts, adding marketing that spoke to those specific needs, and adapting how we delivered our products.
A note on loss aversion and product development
If you pull any intellectual concepts aside from practical tools from this newsletter, it’s my hope that you will be aware of loss aversion at play in your own business. In this sense, loss aversion means spending more time trying to stop people from canceling/win them back rather than spending time on our existing satisfied customers.
It’s that pernicious voice that makes us pay more attention to people who are upset and than those who are happy.
Fixing bugs is one thing, but changing our product to better fit someone’s use case that it wasn’t designed for is another. Focusing on the happy people – i.e. the people whose use case is a good match for what your product already does, or is in scope for your company – is much easier and more enjoyable.
This is the underlying goal of this interview: find the people who are happy and figure out why they are happy so we can find more people like them. Hopefully, we’ll find new landing pages we can write to better speak to their use cases, new places to market our product, and ways we can make small changes to our offerings to make our service more compelling.
Customer Interview Script: Long-Time Customers
Talking to happy customers is the topic of today’s script.
The recruitment email will be slightly different than the others. In this one, you want to play up that you’re the founder and are open to hearing feature suggestions – that’s usually a huge incentive in its own right.
I know we’ve chatted before [when you signed up for Our Service/over email/through support], but was wondering if you had a few minutes for us to zoom out and give me the broader picture of how [what our service does] fits into what you’re trying to do overall.
I’m also interested to hear any feature suggestions or tweaks you might have – or if there’s anything you want to make sure we don’t change in the future.
I know you’ve been using the product for some time now, and checking in with long-term customers like yourself helps me make sure our plans is aligned with what our customers need.
This will look familiar to the other scripts, with the key difference that we purposefully ask for feature requests in this interview.
When you encounter feature requests, the key is dive into why they would need that feature in the first place. After you get that context, you can give them details on your company’s side: for example, if it’s already on your roadmap or already scheduled for release.
If it’s beyond the scope for your company, find a nice way to close the topic without shutting them down. For example:
Customer: … so that’s why we need [something that does X that is wildly outside of the scope for your company]. Is that on y'alls roadmap?
You: You’re the first person to surface that, so we haven’t really looked at it. We can explore whether that would be possible. Is there anything else that’s come to mind?
- Hi [person]. Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.
- The goal of this is to kinda dig deeper into what you all are doing overall, and make sure what we’re doing is aligned with that.
- Before we get started, is it okay if I record this interview? It’s just so I can listen to what you’re saying and don’t have to be scribbling notes the whole time. It won’t be shared outside.
- To get started, could you go back in time and tell me why you even needed something to do [what your service does] in the first place?
- What did you use before [our service]?
- Why’d you start looking for something new?
- Thinking about all of the steps that go into [what they do], what happens before our service/what happens after?
- How has the [thing they do that they use your service for] changed since you started using us?
- Thanks so much for humoring me there on those big picture questions. I wanted to leave a lot of space here for you to tell me what you think of the product and whether you have any ideas or suggestions or whatnot for us. [Pause]
When they suggest a feature
- Can you walk me through a scenario where you would use that?
- What do you currently use for that?
- What do you currently pay for that?
- How long does that take you?
- A bit of a silly question here. If you had a magic wand and could change anything about [Geocodio], what would it be? [Pause]
The reaching for the door question* (after you’ve covered the above and feel like you have a good grasp of the timeline, ~ halfway through the time you’ve told them this interview will take)
- Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you today and learning more about how we fit in to what you do. [pause] Is there anything else you think I should know?
When you’re actually ready to get off the phone
It was great talking to you again today. If you think of anything else, feel free to shoot me an email. Of course, you can always reach me for any suggestions or ideas you or your team might have.
Cataloguing feature requests and follow-up: the secret to making happy customers even happier
For this one, it’s especially important that you keep note of the features they requested. You can then reach back out to them in the future for more details once you decide to build that, or close the loop when you do. That sort of follow-up – even if it’s months or years later – is hugely beneficial in making those happy customers even happier.
In a world where so many companies are actively disdainful of their customers, listening to customers is a competitive advantage. Just by listening, you’re already showing customers how your company is different. The follow-up that shows you listened? 🔥